College students who learn COBOL make more money

Yes, you read the title of this column correctly. College students who learn COBOL as part of their college studies were hired at a higher starting salary than their peers.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Professor Leon Kappelman, Ph.D. He is the Director Emeritus, Information Systems Research Center in the Information Technology and Decision Sciences Department (ITDS) at the College of Business, University of North Texas (UNT).

Just by chance, Prof. Kappelman saw my ITworld blog titled COBOL will Outlive Us All and contacted me to tell me about a joint venture that UNT has with IBM and how his graduates get high-paying jobs with major US corporations that have COBOL based applications running within their data centers.

He said that many years ago they took COBOL out of the department’s Business Computer Information Systems (BCIS) curriculum because it was thought of as an outdated technology. Then, a few years ago they added it back in as two one semester electives at the suggestion of their advisory committee. As you may expect, this class teaches the full cast of characters needed to be a successful COBOL programmer including the IBM mainframe operating system, Job Control Language (JCL) and, of course the COBOL programming language.

Leon went on to say, that offering COBOL at the university was a win-win for everyone concerned. First, and most important, it was a win for the students who took the elective. Their average salary upon graduation was approximately $10,000 higher than their peer BCIS graduates who didn’t take the electives. Second, it was a win for the university’s corporate business partners because they had the ability to hire highly qualified college graduates who were willing and able to program in COBOL. It was also a win for IBM, who is helping create the next generation of COBOL programmers. Lastly, it was a win for the university by successfully maximizing the career skills and, thus the marketability of its students.

I asked Leon why he thought these students did so well financially upon graduation. He said to me that there are simply not enough people in the profession who have these skills and skill scarcity drives higher salaries. I then asked if he knew what career directions these students could go if they began their careers programming in a legacy technology. He reminded me that COBOL was not their only technical skill, they were trained in state-of-the-art programming technologies like Java and .NET, industry database technologies and all the other subjects that warrant a degree in BCIS, COBOL was just another arrow in their quiver.

He went onto say that who better to work on developing web services written in Java that connect to COBOL based applications than someone who knows both languages? Who better to convert legacy COBOL applications to more modern technologies than a technologist who understands both technologies? Also, remember that COBOL is an acronym for Common Business Oriented Language. That said, it’s a great place to learn business process with the goal of eventually moving out of programming toward business analysis or other non-technical IT-centric business roles. Lastly, there is the real potential to quickly move up the IT ranks because most of today’s COBOL programmers are baby boomers closing in on retirement. As a result, our newest generation of COBOL programmers may soon be moving into higher software development and other IT positions.

In closing, I’d like to say that I began my career as a COBOL programmer and loved it. Yes, times and technologies were not then what they are now, but COBOL gave me a great start to my career and I have a feeling that the students at UNT who take these classes and start their careers working with COBOL will one day say the same.

Prof. Kappelman and the ITDS Department at the University of North Texas can be found at www.cob.unt.edu/itds/.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom and @MgrMechanics or at www.ManagerMechanics.com.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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